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Maharashtra: Taking no chances, Ashok Chavan hits the ground running in Nanded

With three public meetings scattered 50 to 70 km apart in hilly Mudkhed and Umri talukas, Ashok Chavan has also squeezed into the day a series of consultations with party workers, other leaders on the campaign trail in his constituency and a press conference.

lok sabha elections, lok sabha elections 2019, lok sabha polls, elections in india, maharashtra, elections in maharashtra, maharashtra elections, narendra modi, congress, ncp, ashok chavan, maharashtra congress, election news, indian express news Ashok Chavan at a rally in Nanded. (Amit Chakravarty)

IT’S early days still for poll campaign managers in the scorched landscape of Marathwada, but state Congress chief Ashok Chavan has hit the road already. With three public meetings scattered 50 to 70 km apart in hilly Mudkhed and Umri talukas, Chavan has also squeezed into the day a series of consultations with party workers, other leaders on the campaign trail in his constituency and a press conference.

“He’s not one to take the opponent lightly,” says Dr Manik Jadhav (55), of Malkota village in Mudkhed, where the day’s last rally is scheduled. Jadhav, once a general practitioner in the tidy little village with lush sugarcane and rabi jowar standing in the fields, was picked and honed by Chavan decades ago as a local leader.

“We had no background in politics. My father was a farmer. But somehow Chavan saab found me suitable. I’ve been with him since 1995 and served as a panchayat samiti member, and also on the Agricultural Produce Market Committee in Nanded,” he says, during a break from organising the public address system, gen-set, firecrackers, party flags and welcoming Congress and NCP leaders from the region who will all speak briefly before the former CM’s address. Click here for more election news

The meeting at Malkota is expected to start at 8 pm, maybe 8.30 pm. By 7 pm, the village children are running around the green mat laid on the Maidan as the loudspeaker cranks up — a song from the Rajasthan election campaign is playing, “I swear on Rajasthan, I’ll bring back Gandhi”.

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Malkota, with just 3,200 votes, is located in the command area of the Upper Penganga Project, planned in the 1970s. Two barrages built during Chavan’s tenure as revenue minister and chief minister have ensured that the water of the Godavari, located right beside the village, is available to Malkota and Devapur’s farmers all year around, even amidst a drought like the current one.

Ask about a common opinion in Maharashtra’s countryside that India needs Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre, and Jadhav says: “I don’t know about elsewhere, but we would be voting for Ashok Chavan, as we have for years.”

From Ardhapur to Umri to Malkota, and in the little towns en route, crowds gather to wave as Chavan’s cavalcade passes. He waves back gamely. While Nanded was one of the only two Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra that the Congress managed to hold steady amid the Modi wave in 2014, Chavan has also managed to keep intact the party’s control of local bodies, including a sweeping win in the Nanded municipality in 2017. Yet, he and his team are taking no chances.

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At Malkota, news arrives that Chavan is wrapping up the Umri meeting, and will be on his way soon.

Already, Bolero and Force utility vehicles, carrying dozens from the three or four villages around, have arrived. Local Congressmen show up, in sedans with tinted windows and wearing safari suits, in the 40 degrees Celsius evening.

Early speakers start, well-rehearsed lines on the farm waiver that wasn’t, farm suicides that continue, the Rs 15 lakh that everyone’s still awaiting, the Maratha morchas that yielded no final resolution and the silence on reservation for Dhangars. The BJP-Sena government is roundly criticised by everyone, but nobody actually mentions BJP candidate Pratap Patil Chikhalikar, a former Shiv Sainik.

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Past 9 pm, the listeners are still waiting patiently, about 2,000 of them, but the speakers are getting a little ahead of themselves. “Remember that we want to see Ashok Chavan as our chief minister,” declares Shivkanta Gandras, president of Mudkhed Panchayat Samiti, the end of her Paithani sari firmly on her head. Maharashtra will witness Assembly polls only in October-November, but the crowd doesn’t seem to mind.
At 9.35 pm, Chavan’s car rolls in to a brief round of firecrackers and cheers from the crowd.

He looks exhausted, and organisers hurry the speaker before him — the 10 pm Election Commission deadline is approaching. He launches into his address, but he doesn’t need to say very much. Malkota, its Hindus and its tiny population of 300 Muslim fishermen and a smaller community of Buddhists, already know which way they’re voting.

First published on: 04-04-2019 at 01:21:54 am
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